CNN reports that the United States lags behind seventeen other countries in Internet speed. While the fastest and cheapest Internet connections are in South Korea, even former Soviet Bloc nations like Slovakia and Romania have faster average connection speeds than the United States.

Some nations, like Korea and Japan, benefit from a dense population that relies very heavily on technology. There is a high demand for a fast connection, and cables don’t have to run far to carry the signal. With less distance to cover, providers are able to place more emphasis on the quality of the connection.

But CNN also cites a lack of competition as a key factor in America’s Internet lag. Most Americans don’t have much choice–they generally must choose between one DSL provider or one cable company if they want high-speed Internet. Other countries have gotten better results with an “open” approach that allows for more competition between providers, according to Harvard Professor Yochai Benkler.

In a N.Y. Times op-ed, Benkler argues that the government should break up the local monopolies with regulations that require cable companies to sell access to their competitors. In turn, these competitors would undercut the cable company on price.

The United States flirted with an “open access” system in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) waffled on the issue, and eventually decided that local monopolies were good enough for American consumers. According to Benkler, Senior FCC members have said that strong industry lobbying has essentially ruled out an open access system for the foreseeable future.

That’s not good news–especially if the U.S. plans to meet its recently published goals under the FCC’s new National Broadband Plan.

Brian Van Wyk

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